In the midst of a crisis, I can’t suppress a yawn at polls drama

Friday July 31 2020

President Yoweri Museveni gestures after he was nominated as National Resistance Movement party 2021 presidential candidate on July 28, 2020. Seated is his wife Janet Museveni. PHOTO | NRM

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

​​​In the last few days, there has been a lot of news on elections in East Africa. In Tanzania, October 28 was revealed as the date of the next election.

There was news of pleas for the opposition to unite against ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) man President John Magufuli. And, the inevitable growing list of his challengers.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni picked up nomination forms for next year’s early vote.

Several reports noted that he was seeking “four decades” in power. Well, Museveni has invested a lot in his health the last one year, and cut nearly 30 percent of his weight. Now he is an enviable 76 kilogrammes, and moonlights as Uganda’s Fitness Instructor in Chief.

Saying he is seeking four decades, therefore, might be underselling his ambitions. If he keeps up his press-ups, he might be in shape to feel tempted to go for 50 years.

In Uganda too, presidential rivals were positioning, seeking alliances, unveiling new parties, being beaten and run over by police, and enduring all the things that visit anyone who goes against Kaguta’s son.


This time, though, it was different. I could barely suppress a yawn at the election drama. I checked and I wasn’t alone. Not that it doesn’t matter, but in the crisis we have been thrown into by the Covid-19 pandemic, elections look like spitting into a hurricane. It just doesn’t feel like re-electing the same man, or bringing in a new one, is equal to the demand of the moment.

Millions of people have lost their livelihoods. The economic models we had, of building competitive economies and creating fertile ground for international investment and tourists to pour in, have taken a beating. A recent story in The EastAfrican’s sister paper Daily Nation, had photographs of Nairobi’s battered working class boarding matatus and buses in huge numbers now that the travel upcountry has been allowed. They are fleeing, no longer able to make it in the city where lockdown and other virus-related restrictions have wiped out the endeavours from which they made a living.

Uganda has seen a version of this. In Tanzania, where by political fiat Covid-19 no longer exists, from outside looking in, we don’t know enough about what really is happening.

The upheaval is so much, it doesn’t look like a conventional election, where at the best voters are offered alternative policies, and at the worst they have to choose between candidate’s tribes, who bribes them most, and whose lies they believe, is too crude a tool.

Unfortunately, we have no other way. We will have to go through with the elections, because leaving the big men in State House without a new mandate, even a rigged one, is worse. Yet, we have seen a faint outline of alternative approaches.

On Monday Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta will have a national and county governments’ summit on Covid-19, to find a way, as one paper put it, to “wriggle the country out of a looming disaster.” It seems a massive socially-distanced kamukunji (meeting), where even political enemies are called, is what is needed. The president would just say, “we’re in big trouble. We’re in this together. How do we get out alive?” (Editor’s note: This article was first published on Saturday, July 25, before President Kenyatta’s meeting.